Health Roundup: Conservatives could stymie health bills

Conservatives could stymie health bills: We find out this week how much clout the Tea Party has on Capitol Hill. Newly empowered conservatives are vowing to stymie Democrats' policy priorities in the lame-duck session. That could have repercussions on a couple of health-related bills, including childhood nutrition and food safety. Also in doubt is a 13-month Medicare "doc fix" because of the inevitable struggle to find offsets acceptable to all parties.

The nonprofit Americans for Prosperity is holding a "November Speaks" event on Monday to press lawmakers "not to pass any new legislation from the Left's agenda in the Lame Duck session." Expected speakers at the event include Republican Reps. Mike Pence (Ind.) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Reps.-elect Morgan Griffith (Va.), Frank Guinta (N.H.) and Sean Duffy (Wis.). http://bit.ly/bHu2mf

Advocates are pushing back. Feeding America and its partners plan to inundate Capitol Hill this week to get the nutrition bill passed. The group hosts a child nutrition "Virtual" town hall with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Top Chef host and nutrition advocate Tom Colicchio; and Feeding America CEO Vicki Escarra on Monday at 2 p.m. 

They're also promoting a Twitter petition (http://act.ly/2lt) and will soon be sending an advocacy video on child hunger and childhood obesity to congressional staffers. The video features members of Congress and the first lady speaking about child nutrition. http://bit.ly/avR9v4

Long wait for food-safety bill may be over: Almost a year to the day after a unanimous committee vote, a long-stalled bill to promote food safety is poised for Senate passage within a week. The bill by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) passed the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Nov. 18 on a 16-0 bipartisan vote. It had already passed the House in July 2009 on a 283-142 vote. http://bit.ly/bQ6EPP

Medicare open enrollment starts: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are encouraging all Medicare beneficiaries to take advantage of the annual open enrollment period starting Monday. Open enrollment this year runs through Dec. 31.  

During the period, current and newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, including people with Original Medicare, can review current health and prescription drug coverage; compare health and drug plan options available in their area and choose coverage that best meets their needs. http://bit.ly/9YQaA2

Democrat vows to repeal 1099: A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. 

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it. Baucus, who had pushed legislation scaling back the requirement earlier in the year, now wants it repealed in full. http://bit.ly/9QBTg4

Effort to reject legal challenge against healthcare reform gathers steam: Thirty-five of the nation's leading economists said Friday they are opposing the 20-state legal challenge to the healthcare reform law. The distinguished list includes three Nobel laureates and several high-ranking officials in former administrations. 

Groups representing people with disabilities, the business community and a broad coalition of healthcare reform advocates are also joining the fight. On the other side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have recently announced their intention to file briefs in support of the challenge, as have Govs. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) and Donald Carcieri (R.I.). http://bit.ly/cBmzx5

Hospitals on board, too: The nation’s six leading associations of hospitals and health systems have also filed a brief opposing the multistate lawsuit challenging the law in Florida. Healthcare reform supporters argue that the law and its individual mandate seek to regulate healthcare activity, in which everyone participates, even those without insurance, because of unplanned visits to the emergency room, for example.

"Most particularly," they argue, "the Hospital Associations can shed light, through data and descriptions of real-world medical treatment decisions, on whether the uninsured Americans who will be affected by the individual mandate are engaged in relevant 'activity' — a question this Court identified as 'perhaps the most significant one' in the case."

The groups include the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the National Association of Children's Hospitals and the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems.

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